While they are usually barely seen and rarely heard, background actors (aka “extras”) play just as an important of a role in a production as the lead cast. In fact their presence is so felt in film and television, that most productions are not complete without them. Think of a huddled street scene–the masses are background actors. Crowded restaurants, jam-packed sports stadiums, swarming school hallways, and crammed clubs are all made possible by the work of background actors.
Although the nature of background acting work may be misunderstood by the general public, endless actors have established successful careers in background acting. What’s more, many of today’s well-known actors started their careers in the background. According to www.backstage.com, Sylvester Stallone, Brad Pitt, Megan Fox, and Clint Eastwood, among others, all started their mega careers as background actors. Yours truly can attest that work as a background actor can be exciting, rewarding and the gateway to other opportunities in the entertainment industry.
That being said, SAG-AFTRA has carved out rules for its members seeking to establish themselves in this realm of acting. The Organization publishes a comprehensive PDF that governs the entire realm of background acting, and this post discusses and summarizes some of the information located there. To view the full document, follow this link.
Salary and Overtime
SAG-AFTRA not only sets minimum salary requirements for its background actors but overtime standards as well. Under SAG-AFTRA, the regular workday for background actors is eight consecutive hours excluding meal periods. Work done for the ninth hour is required to be compensated at time plus ½ while work performed in the 10th hour is required to be compensated as double time. For example, if a background actor makes $18.50 per hour ($148 per week or the weekly 2013 minimum) on the ninth hour she would be compensated approximately $27.75. She would be paid twice the hourly rate of $18.50 or $37 for the 10th hour of work.
The minimum salary of $148 per week represents the compensation for a five day week–any five consecutive days of the seven day work week. SAG-AFTRA does not require a Monday through Friday workday, nor does it make additional provisions for weekends worked if the weekend is within the five day workweek. However, additional provisions are made for six or seven consecutive days and holidays worked.
All work performed on the sixth day shall be compensated at the time plus ½ rate while time worked for the seventh day shall be compensated at the double time rate. So, if a background actor works six or seven days and more than eight hours a day, she would be compensated overtime rates for both the additional hours and the additional days! Finally, work performed on a holiday is compensated at the double time rate. If a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Friday or Monday is observed. For a listing of which days are recognized as holidays, follow the link above.
We will continue this discussion on SAG-AFTRA consideration for background actors next week.
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